This is Aunt Grace's response to the inquiry from Harrison. Grace supplies information on going to school in Yosemite in 1912.
Harrison explains his interest in AC Pillsbury is not as a photographer but as an historian. Harrison tells Dad has been researching AC. He provides his job history, which includes having worked in Yosemite for three years and four summers, and as a seasonal employee for the NPS.
Dr. Arthur F. Pillsbury thanks Harrison for focusing him on the need to, "preserve his recollections of "Uncle" a truly remarkable man." AC adopted the three children legally on November 14, 1911. The adoption made him legally AC's son and heir for all legal purposes. What any of the children called him was irrelevant. Michael Adams never called his father, Dad, Father, or any other commonly used paternal word. He always called him Ansel. This did not change their legal relationship.
Dr. Pillsbury goes on to comment about the fire of 1927 and his later trips to the Park with family, "On one of those trips I was told by an employee of Best's Studio that he believed there was a strong effort to play down Uncle's role in the development of Yosemite."
Harrison asks Dr. Pillsbury if his father had an emotional reaction to the burning of the studio. He then asks, "Everyone I have corresponded with who remembers your Uncle in Yosemite speaks very warmly and highly of him." Harrison says, re: question "Did he (meaning AC) or anyone else ever suggest it might have been deliberately set." Harrison then mentions contacting the a paper about AC's work at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and sends the only record they have of the name. It is a clipping from one of Dr. Pillsbury's interviews on pollution.
Dr. Pillsbury informed Harrison of the adoption, making AC his father, not legally his uncle. The rest of the pages, eight of them, are now up but the top of some has been cut off for some reason. They also needed to be remastered to be readable. Pages 2 - 5 Pages 6 - 9
To Harrison's direct question regarding possible arson as the cause of the studio fire of 1927 Dr. Pillsbury responds, "There was never a suggestion by anyone that the fire that burned Uncle's studio was deliberately set. Certainly Uncle never expressed it, nor did his manager, Everett (Tommy) Tompkins."
I had not yet received the file containing this letter when Dad died. These files were set out for me with the boxes of other materials and I did not go through them until several years later later, around 1995. This is a statement being made in 1978. Between 1978 and 1990 many things became clear to Dad. These changes in what he knew, and believed, accumulated. About the question of the fire I remained oblivious until one day a few months before Dad died.
Dad was unfailingly honest and until the day he died his mind remained sharp. No one suggested to him the fire was set. But Tommy did relate to him some facts which he immediately took to Virginia and Ansel. Dad was in Yosemite to sign papers for his father, finalizing his exit from the Valley. Dad confronted the newly weds over what Tommy told him but accepted Virginia's solemn word Ansel had no motive to burn the studio as he was determined to become a concert pianist.
This assurance from the lips of a childhood friend, he accepted. He also promised to say nothing of the facts relayed by Tommy without first talking to Virginia. The confrontation took place at the living quarters for the Best Studio in early 1928. Dad did not lie in the statement above, but he delicately obfuscated the issue.
Harrison writes Dr. Pillsbury telling him he inquired with the patent office and acquired a copy of patent for the mass production photo postcard machine.
Aunt Grace writes to Harrison, mentioning her memory of a trip into the Valley by car. This would have been either 1914, the first car in after the snows melted, or the first car in, 1916 when Desmond offered a prize for being first. I suspect it was 1916 because they came in on the railroad line, apparently. There are records of Pillsbury doing this. Grace continued, "My brother Art sent me a copy of his letter. We don't always agree but I guess it isn't too important. He left out the interesting part of the trip up the Y. V. Railroad to be the first car into the Valley. That car had a regular siren on it which gave him quite a bit of pleasure when we were driving on country roads into the Valley." Chief Townsley is also mentioned and Grace comments about her Father, "Uncle never outgrew a lot of his boyish fun. He was very good natured and I never heard him lose his temper."
Winkey in a straw hat, 4th of July, and Indian Field Days.
The letters from Harrison up to this point have been chatty and friendly. Harrison mentions research and AC's first marriage to Ella Wing, and the Tioga Pass Trip AC made in 1916 with Hil Oehlmann and other guests.
Harrison sends Dr. Pillsbury the same information he sent Aunt Grace and details about his own plans.
Harrison receives some connections to the Ella Wing Pillsbury story which include Great-Aunt Belinda. Belinda was the youngest sister of Sylvia Florance Ball Pillsbury, Dad's mother.
Harrison asks to meet with Dr. Pillsbury. Outlining his research over the summer he explains he wants to conclude his research and begin writing. He explains he is donating a kidney to his brother and will be out of commission for a while.
Dr. Pillsbury sends directions to his home.
Rell Francis writes to Ansel Adams to ask about the value of photographs he has acquired by Arthur C. Pillsbury. Francis walked off with photos and other
material, which her husband, Mr. Oliver had purchased from AEtheline Pillsbury as soon as her husband died for $100.
This is part of the collection Dr. Pillsbury was to use to to ensure his father's legacy was remembered.
Harrison writes to tell Dr. Pillsbury his visit will probably be in January.
Adams writes, "Thank you very much for your interesting letter of October 19th. I knew Mr. Pillsbury very well indeed when he had his studio and shop in Yosemite where he had developed his lapse-time photography of flowers."
Harrison writes Rell Francis to ask about the collection. He says he heard about the collection from a Joan Ciesla in Spanish Fork, Utah, but comments he is in touch with Virginia Adams. Wants to know about the films Francis has.
Includes a short ACP Bio
Harrison does not mention that the Pillsbury Collection has finally been located.
Harrison, who does not have a full time job, tells Francis he wants to buy the Pillsbury materials in his possession. Evidently Francis has turned over the films to BYU. Harrison adds that Pillsbury's affiliation with universities in California is slight. Harrison lies about the existing family and heirs, saying Pillsbury and his wife had no children but failing to mention his living son and daughter who have been writing to him to share their memories of the man who legally adopted them. He also fails to mention Pillsbury's son is a graduate of Stanford, where he received his PhD. and that the family has multiple affiliations with universities.
These comments on Harrison's part appear to be made in response to questions from Francis received in the letter he sent to Harrison to which we have no access.
No mention of the collection. Plans are being made for a visit to Dr. and Mrs. Pillsbury. Dr. Pillsbury's mention of a visit with his father make it clear the family is close and not as Harrison has attempted to portray.
Harrison's excitement about his 'research' comes through - but he is lying by omission to someone who had been generous and trusted him.
Dr. Pillsbury writes to confirm the day for Harrison's visit.
Harrison's eagerness to acquire the collection seeps through the page. He has generously visited Aunt Grace, who gave him a multitude of photos in hopes a book would be written. Soon, he will be visiting Dr. Pillsbury, if the plan holds.
Brigham Young University
Harold E. Lee Library, Archives & Manuscripts
Harrison receives a response from BYU about the collection he hoped to buy. It is not ready for viewing.
Mrs. Oliver explains how Rell Francis lifted part of the collection and what her intentions were for its preservation. Because of Steve Harrison our family had no voice in the matter.
Rell Francis finally yields, having no proof he purchased any part of the collection.
Harrison is 'disappointed' not to have acquired the collection from the thief. But he and his wife are taking a vacation then he will be back to his part-time job.
An unfortunate things has happened to Rell Francis. Mrs. William Oliver has demanded the photos and other material filched by Francis be handed over to BYU. It is an unpleasant situation for both Rell and for Harrison who now will have to deal with BYU and hope Dr. Pillsbury never finds out.
Harrison writes to thank Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury for their hospitality and for the gift of the d'orotones which now line his walls. He has finished the manuscript for an article on Pillsbury to be published in The Alaska Journal.
Harrison is still interested in buying the collection from anyone who has it. Again, where will this part-time Employee get the money? Or who does he know who has this kind of money? Now, Harrison is about to write Dr. Pillsbury. Is he going to mention the matter so the Pillsbury family can buy the collection - or persuade Mrs. Oliver to place it at Stanford, UCLA or Berkeley, their family schools?
Rell Francis's 'acquisition' of the left behind box from the Pillsbury Collection and subsequent letter to Ansel Adams set in motion a chain of events. As a result of his interaction with Harrison facts were revealed to the Pillsbury Family which otherwise would have remained covert. Harrison knew Pillsbury had adopted the children and that they were his legal heirs. Because of Harrison's lies these facts remained unknown to BYU. Harrison told me this when we talked. I appreciate his having provided me with his correspondence with Harrison. He was surprised to learn Pillsbury had a family who are perfectly competent to handle placement of documents, photographs, and other kinds of collections. Dad's papers are at UC Riverside.
After the Collection is in the hands of BYU they kindly let Harrison know they will contact him when it is ready for viewing. Harrison has still not mentioned it has been found to Father.
Harrison is disappointed not to have gotten his hands on the collection.
The existence of the collection is still not mentioned.
Dr. Pillsbury writes to tell Harrison Aunt Grace has died. He regrets she will no longer be a source of information and expresses his own grief. Dr. Pillsbury ends the letter with, "I always wish I could do more to help you in your efforts."
It would have meant so much to Father to know the collection had been found.
Dated June 3, 1980
Rell turns over what he still has of the Pillsbury Collection.
of William Harold Oliver, Jr., 6363 Estates Dr., Oakland,
California“Specialist in Photomicrography”
Smarmy and insincere should be Harrison's middle names.
Harrison wants to know how much Rell would have charged for the collection - and sends him the entire product of his research, "His Camera was his Gold Mine," which shows just how little he understood AC.
Dr. Pillsbury is still trying to get Harrison to produce something substantial about Grandfather.
Brigham Young University
Harold E. Lee Library, Archives & Manuscripts
Dr. Pillsbury's trip to Yosemite opened him up to the reality his father faced in the wake of the fire. He itemizes the problems his father faced and sees the beginning of his struggle to hold on to what he has created and now lost. Dad does not mention the suicide of George Banfield, who burdened with his share of the debts from the fire killed himself in September of 1929.
Harrison is still interested - if there is money in it.
Dad was growing much quieter during these years. We began to talk about Grandfather and recall the stories he had told me growing up.
Harrison is thankful for Father's renewed interest?
Harrison receives another d'orotone and reads what Father wrote.
Envelope to AFP from
'The Harrisons” "Please return" in handwriting
Harrison continues to string Father along.
Harrison finally mentions the BYU Collection. Mother had died the year before of lung cancer. Dad is struggling with his health. But for Harrison there is the scent of money in the air.
Harrison sends Dad a proposal for a book. It would never have been finished in time for him to see.
When Harrison sent this I had not started digging. But I knew how much Dad had given him over the years. When he told me I had to pay him for his research, I declined. Doing it myself was the right thing to do. Otherwise the most significant facts could have been missed.
November 29, 2016 - Update
This is the background for the story which is now being written as a book and screenplay. Stay tuned for developments.
Father, Dr. Arthur Francis Pillsbury asked me to see justice was done. I will deliver.